Self-Stabbing Ritual at Ngerebong in Bali

Self-stabbing during Odalan at Pengerebongan Temple

Fascinating article regarding Self-Stabbing rituals a mystical-like custom, the Ngerebong Ceremony which takes place at the Pengerebongan Temple in Bali.

self-stabbing ceremony in bali
Balinese man stabbing himself in the chest with Kris (Ritual Knife)


Ritualistic ceremonies are nothing new in Indonesia with all forms of religion still maintaining some essence of the original animist roots be it Islam, Christianity or Buddhism but Bali with it’s particular take on Hinduism which is accessible to any interested observer continues to amaze not only foreign tourists but also domestic visitors to the island with it’s very own unique cultural traditions steeped in history with origins dating far back in time..


Women prepared for the Ngerebong Ceremony
Women prepared for the Ngerebong Ceremony


Bali is unique as far as Religion goes remaining predominantly Hindu in a veritable sea of Islam mainly due to cultural barriers. The likes of Sumatra, Java and parts of Kalimantan were from around the 5th to 14th centuries CE devoutly Hindu until Buddhism took hold and later Islam which continues to this day but it never really spread as far as Bali and it’s smaller islands of Nusa Penida, Nusa Ceningan and Nusa Lembongan. Hindu’s still exist on other islands but in small pockets.


beautiful Hindu Temples of Bali
One of the many Hindu Temples in Bali


This small island which to surfers and holiday makers has become known as the paradise island a tag which has spread around the world due to its idyllic beaches, beautiful climate and relaxed way of life is much more than that with it’s culture and traditions originating from the Indian Subcontinent mixed with animisim, the original belief system. The religion in Bali remains strong yet has taken somewhat of a twist with it’s religious celebrations which most definitely vary compared to Indian Hindu celebrations yet are no less colourful, extravagant, and at times quite bizarre due in part to this hybrid form of Hinduism with it’s mix of mysticism and superstition thrown in for good measure..


man giving offerings at a Hindu Temple
Offerings at a Hindu Temple


One such fascinating mystical-like custom is the Ngeruk Ceremony which has also come to be known as the Ngerebong Ceremony due to it taking place at the Pengerebongan Temple (Pura Pengerbong) in the small village of Kesiman in East Denpasar. This occurs every 210 days according to the length of the traditional Balinese Pawukon calendar which most Balinese Ceremonies adhere to. The Pawukon calender shouldn’t be confused with the Saka Calender which is almost the same as the Gregorain calender, one that is used worldwide and follows the Lunar cycle which provides reference for Balinese New Year or Nyepi.


barong procession during self-stabbing trance parade
Barong at the Ngeruk Procession during Ngerobong


The Ngerebong ceremony coincides with the Temple’s Piodalan or Odalan for short (Temple Anniversary) and falls eight days after Kuningan (more about Kunningan here). The villagers themselves perform this ceremony as thanks to God and to prevent evil forces disturbing the human race and any disaster occuring among them. It is an all day event which begins with the usual devotional practices of taking offerings such as Canang Sari and fruits to Pura Pengerebongan Temple with devotees dressed in their finest ceremonial clothes.


Lord Ganesh overlooks a devotee
Lord Ganesh overlooks a devotee


Balinese women are clothed in beautiful finery of traditional Kebaya (uppermost) consisting of white lace top and for the lower half intricately woven Balinese Kain or Batik Sarong with flowers placed in tied back hair and a coloured sash around the waist. The men less elaborate but looking just as respectful wear the whites (symbolizing purity) consisting of the Kain or Batik sarong also, plain shirt and Udeng the Balinese male headband or headwear used for such occasions.


Hindu devotees at Pura Pengerebongan in bali
Hindu devotees at Pura Pengerebongan


This goes on from late morning until mid afternoon due to the sheer numbers of people wishing to be accommodated and allowed to accomplish their ritual purification. There is a constant stream of adherents coming and going who wish to give their offerings which are placed on altars by temple staff and to be blessed by priests amidst blankets of fragrant incense smoke and the musical notes of traditional Gamelan music wafting through the air. The inner compound of the Temple becomes increasingly full of bodies by the time Rangda and Barong arrive, the mythical creatures of Balinese mythology.


Rangda queen of the witches or Leyak
Rangda queen of the witches or Leyak


A note about these two all important characters of Bali Myth and Legend who are actually the most significant figures of the whole Ngeruk Ritual. Rangda is known as the baby eating Queen of the witches (Leyak) who wears a skull necklace and Barong is the good guy if you will, even though he looks as bizarre and frightening as Rangda!
Nevertheless the Lion-like Barong is the King of the spirits of the good and Rangda is his arch enemy.


Self-Stabbing ritual begins
Self-Stabbing ritual begins


At some point in the proceedings Ngerebong ritual starts with the Tabuh Rah ceremony in the Wantilan or open air hall outside of the main Temple where blood is shed at a cockfight, many people gather to view the bloody outcome. Sometime after this hundreds of spectators take position in or around the Wantilan from where the Ngeruk ritual or Self-Stabbing with the Kris (traditional knife believed to be sacred with magical powers). Chosen men who have fallen into trance and have lost control of their bodies are led around the Wantilan by guards and escorts three times with a whole procession of other men and women (some women also in trance wailing and screaming or crying who don’t use the Kris to stab themselves) and a number of Rangda and Barong characters.


Balinese trance man attempts self-stabbing himself
Balinese man in a trance attempts to stab himself with the Kris knife


This takes around an hour to complete due to much stopping and starting as those in trance without any cue decide amidst much chaotic screaming and shouting that it’s time to stab themselves in the neck or chest to the astonishment of all those watching. It is a frenzied exercise as the tranced out men feverishly try to penetrate the skin but try as they may the sacred Kris or traditional Dagger will fortunately not pierce the skin!


Sacred knife held aloft during self-stabbing ritual
The Kris or sacred knife held aloft


The Ngerebong Ceremony dates back about a hundred years and is connected to the Rangda and Barong story of yore and their involvement during the ceremonial parade and the actually self-stabbing ritual dates back it is said to the time of King Airlangga. One simplified version of the story goes that Rangda took umbridge and decided to cast a spell on the forces of King Airlingga which would make them take up the Sacred Kris or dagger and kill themselves but Barong stepped in and reciprocated by casting a spell which would make the Dagger unable to enter the flesh hence protecting King Airlingga’s forces from suicide. It is ultimately a classic story of Good versus Evil and the forces of good overcoming evil.
As they say in Bali “Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om


Balinese woman praying at Pura Pengerebongan
Balinese woman praying at Pura Pengerebongan

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2 Responses

  1. Ria (@lifeinbigtent)

    Thank you for great article and inspiration 🙂 I hope this year I will be able to see it too. At the moment making my “Bali ceremonies, festivals, rituals – bucketlist” :D. To which Indonesian festival or ceremony you are thinking to go next?

  2. Antony

    Hi Ria,
    many thanks for the visit. I also hope you can see this extraordinary ceremony which will be in April this year if I’m not mistaken. Nice Bucket list you have there too on your very informative website.
    My next ceremony will probably be Melasti which you can find more about on my website here (Melasti Ceremony) on the 3 days run up to Nyepi and Balinese New Year. And of course on New Years Eve it will have to be the Ngrupuk Parade for the giant Ogoh-Ogoh statues, I also have an article about that here Ogoh-Ogoh Ngrupuk Parade. I do hope you manage to experience all of these amazing Balinese Ceremonies.

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